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Readers of this blog may have noticed the frequent attention paid to the term "Steward Leadership." In our work with leaders and businesses throughout the country and around the world, we find that a stewardship stance toward business makes a profound difference in that business' success on all levels. Without a strong sense of stewardship, businesses might still grow big and make lots of money, but their overall success as a business falters. That's why we find steward leadership so essential for organizations and their leaders as they transform for a vibrant future.
What do we mean by Stewardship?
Stewardship is an increasingly-used term that may still be more familiar in the non-profit and faith-based organizational world than it is in business. Stewardship derives from the concept that we are given something (owned by someone else) to manage on their behalf and make it fruitful or profitable for the owner, or expend it according to the owner's terms to the beneficiaries the owners have designated.
For those of us who are executives or managers who don't own an interest in the business we work in, this stewardship concept translates quite directly to the work we do: we work on behalf of an owner or owners to make it fruitful or profitable for the owners, or expend the resources we are given according to the owners' terms to benefit the owners' purpose.
For those of us who own our businesses (or part of our businesses), we take the concept of stewardship one more step forward. For us, we must, at minimum, approach our business as being a part of a shared world. The resources we consume came from someplace before us, and as we transform them or consume them, what is left behind will be left for someone else. This stewardship focuses on stewardship of our world: we are not the only people or creatures here, and we must keep everyone else's (and everything else's) interests well in mind.
Many steward leaders take one step beyond this to focus on how what they have they received from others, and they owe duty and gratitude to those who provided them with everything from their first job to their first big break to even their very lives. This stewardship focuses on paying it forward: we received benefit we want to amplify and pass on to others.
Some steward leaders focus on indirect stewardship: by investing in something that does not have an immediate monetary return (such as education grants, and so on), they are creating long-term benefit for themselves and others.
Some steward leaders focus on how their client or customer focus drives their business, and they must steward their customers' goodwill, experience, and the value the customers receive. It's not theirs, but they are entrusted to manage it. This aligns very closely with some of the non-profit approaches to stewardship.
Still other steward leaders focus on a more traditional sense of stewardship: that everything we have has come from outside of ourselves and is owned by a being greater than ourselves. Often this can have religious, new age, or recovery community overtones. Like the others, this creates a sense of altruism in business. This sense of stewardship is often the most comprehensive, since it delineates that someone else owns everything a person touches - including their very life.
That being said, all of these approaches to stewardship share the common characteristic that we are managing something that is not fully ours because others have a say in how it gets used, expended, or grown. All of these are approaches to being a steward leader who can do good in the community and the world while doing well. And that, in a nutshell, is a strong driver of the kinds of steward leadership in business we see that leads to success.
For more on organizational leadership, read Mark L. Vincent's fable, Wise Owl & Young Buck.
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